Dec. 14, 2007
ANITA ALAN Contributor- Carmel, CA
Perhaps more than any of the arts, music can draw the traveler to the heart of a country. Bergen has so much beauty, rain and all, such charm that it requires far more time than a port-ofcall foray. Indeed, we found ourselves back in Bergen once the Prairie Home Companion cruise ended—and back at Troldhaugen. That, another time. Today, in rare bright sun and dappled cloud cover, we took to Troldhaugen, home and final resting place of Norway’s most renowned composer Edvard Grieg. As with nearly every Bergen building, Troldhaugen rests on a hillside. Was it really a “haunt” for trolls, as folklore tells? Perhaps not, but it welcomed composer Grieg, famous for his music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, whose tryst with a troll princess set the wayward Gynt off on a world adventure.
Grieg and his wife, Nina finished building Troldhaugen (today about 30 minutes from Bergen’s city center) in 1885. On this, our first visit, we saw the Edvard Grieg Museum, walked to Grieg’s tomb with its sweeping view of Lake Nordas, and caught a glimpse of Troldsalen, a small concert hall. We took a guided tour of the Edvard and Nina Grieg’s modest, yet elegant, chalet-style villa designed by architect Schack Bull—now beautifully restored to 1907, the year he died. Yes, 1907-2007, the Centennial of Grieg’s death meant Bergen had extra concerts and tours throughout the year. Some of these events took place in addition to the already well-attended annual Grieg Music Festival. The city holds the event during the last week in May and first week in June, when locals generally agree Bergen has its best weather. In addition to concerts at Troldsalen, Grieghallen, Bergen’s main concert hall, held a number of special centennial events.
The relatively ornate exterior, but simple Norwegian wood interior of the Grieg home (photography not permitted inside), holds original furnishings including the composer’s own Steinway piano, which stands on a floral carpet handmade for him by Nina’s sisters. The warm interior has various mementos: photographs, sketches, concert programs, and sheet music, including the first conductor’s edition of Grieg’s “A Minor Piano Concerto.” Tragically, the couple had no direct living descendents. Their one child, Alexandra, died at age one of meningitis. Nina moved out of Troldhaugen following Edvard’s death. Thus before public opening of the property came the task of meticulously reassembling their scattered historic treasures.
In 1985, the Museum added Troldsalen, an unobtrusive, sod-roofed concert hall that seats 200 people. The hall hosts about 300 chamber-music performances each year. At the entrance stands a life-size statue of Grieg. This musical giant stood just 5-foot, 1-inch and had to have the legs of his Steinway cut to accommodate his physical stature. Troldsalen overlooks Grieg’s small, brick red composer’s hut. Both structures have a view of Lake Nordas. Though Grieg wrote most of famous compositions before his move to Troldhaugen, he wrote 70 lyrical pieces here. The composer-conductor’s success brought many visitors, and in addition, Dr. Edvard Grieg (a recipient of several honorary doctorates) had trouble concentrating—two of the reasons he chose the isolation of this small composer’s hut. A third must surely be the tranquility of the lake itself.
Grieg’s mother was a classical pianist and his first teacher, but when distinguished violinist Ole Bull heard of him and came to play his youthful compositions, he pronounced, “You are to go to Leipzig and become a musician.” Thus at 15, he began his studies at the Conservatory of Music in Leipzig in Germany, where he concentrated largely on the works of Mozart and Beethoven, but also studied Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Wagner. For years, Grieg performed throughout Europe. He befriended Brahms, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and Saint Saëns, and influenced still others, including Debussy, Ravel and Bartok. In 1870, in Rome, Franz Liszt performed Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor.” Grieg’s acclaim grew and in 1874, the Norwegian government provided him with an annuity. Soon after, he resettled in his native Bergen. No better choice could anyone make!
May it please “A Prairie Home Companion” fans to know that Grieg’s family made their fortune selling dried fish—no doubt, much of it reconstituted into the wretchedly delicious “Lutefisk!” If this sounds like an inside passage joke, it surely is. For further lutefisk elucidation, read Garrison Keillor’s Pontoon, or just stay tuned.
Photos (above top to bottom): 1. Troldhaugen- Steps to Grieg’s Tomb 2. Grieg’s Home 3. Life sized Edvard Grieg statue. All photos: Anita Alan